Last week I went to the Swan Island Peace Convergence in Queenscliff, I stayed for the whole thing, 4 nights, and overall had a fantastic time.
I must admit, I didn’t have the clearest idea of what I was coming into.. My friend Daniel encouraged me to come along, I had seen it on facebook and heard about last year’s one, gaged that it was a protest against war and concluded that it was probably something I’d be interested in.
I only really understood what the whole thing was about when I actually got there. I didn’t really know much about the war in Afghanistan, the Swan Island Military Base and this whole US alliance business. After some informative sessions and great conversations, I was briefly worded up, as much as you can be in a short period.
A word that was repeated on the facebook page, in the sessions and in discussion was one that I had only quite briefly dived into. I had always been intrigued of the idea, but never quite explored it. That word being; non-violence. Over the course of the week this idea was everywhere, and the beautiful thing about it was it was for each individual to understand for themselves. I came into the first session on non-violence expecting to learn all about it and how to be some amazing non-violent person. Expecting to gain knowledge on the ‘how to’s’ and the ‘step by steps’, but to my surprise, this wasn’t how the session went about. It was up to me to figure out where I draw the line between what is violent and what isn’t.. What it means to be non-violently resistance and what is just negative resistance. Having this approach provoked much internal dialogue and initial thinking for the days to come.
On the ‘big day’ of the blockade I was very excited, it felt a bit surreal… probably because 5am doesn’t exist to me normally. But this wasn’t like any other protest I’ve been too, there wasn’t any ‘when do we want it!’, no angry chanting or any form of aggression at all really. It was all very peaceful and calm, and still had a lot of passion, emotion and heart. I felt very focused on the purpose at these gentle moments, it was hard, for me anyway, to get carried away with commotion… Until however… Cars started pulling up… The first chunk of being instructed by police.. I was a bit uncertain with myself, didn’t completely know what I personally wanted to do in this situation.. It took a little while for me to connect why I’m here with how that will make me react to the circumstance at hand. And when I made that connection, moving off the road wasn’t an option.
I approached the whole police thing quite honestly… I simply told them that I don’t want to move because the war machine needs to be disrupted. And when they listened and .. to my surprise.. left me on the road.. Everything just felt more right. Of course as the day progressed, the police got more determined to.. do their job.. which led to many a manhandling. The first time I got carried off the road I felt very dehumanized and as if my dignity was diminished. I understand that it was my choice .. That thought doesn’t really have a conclusion, but I just found it interesting.
We repeated the blockade the next day, and I grew more confident to do whatever it took.. the care for myself lessened and this insistence to resist grew. As I said earlier it was up to me to figure out where the line between what is violent and what isn’t lies. In the beginning I was struggling with this thought, and therefore uncertain as to what my actions should entail in the blockades. Was it violent to stay on the road and therefore indirectly force the police to act violently? Was it violent to resist being taken off the road? These were some of the questions I was asking myself. As the convergence went on, I learnt through my choices and actions, and altered them to what I felt was right as I went along. I felt that this idea of ‘non-violent resistance’ is just as it’s name states, non violent resistance. We were resisting, without violence. We were standing, sitting, singing, holding banners.. peacefully.
I’ve spoken a bit about the blockades, but I quickly want to share a few thoughts on one of the nights when we had the privilege to skype call some Afghani youth. What an experience, and a learning process! – We were able to ask them some questions, and they were able to ask us some questions. Something that stuck with me and gave me so much encouragement was a response to the question “What can we do to help you, how can we in Australia help the situation over in Afghanistan?” – Here I was thinking, right, blockading an army base for a few days, ok it would delay bits and pieces, but not really do much in the bigger picture. Get this, we tell them what we’ve already done and they respond with “Why would you do that? Why would you try and stop a war so far away from you?” – It was such encouragement for them, they couldn’t believe that there were people in Australia that cared that much! In response to our initial question of how we can help, they simply said, to just keep in touch, keep these conversations happening and continue to encourage them in their efforts. So really, what I thought wasn’t such a big thing, was a massive encouragement to the Afghani youth. That was such an empowering thing to know.
These few days were very enriching, enlightening and thought provoking for me. It not only was great in advocacy, action and protest, but also in my personal growth and learning. I learnt within myself, with the guidance of the sessions and conversations with others, what it means to be a non-violent person. I personally think we should all be ‘non-violent people’, it feels so right, just and Christ-like.